The Rise of Trump and the Fall of the GOP



Remember this segment, after Obama’s 2012 reelection? More trenchant a debrief has hardly been seen before or since. Maddow’s withering slapdown isn’t just one of my favorite monologues ever, it’s also notable for illustrating how little the center mass of the GOP has moved since. Conservatives across America didn’t wake up the next morning and collectively decide to stop taking the poison that’s killing them. They neglected the autopsy that should have attended the Romney loss and instead continued on their merry way to Anti-intellectualville. In four years time, nothing has changed, and no lessons learned—a case study in political inertia and myopia.



They obstructed, obstructed, obstructed. They continued to deny plain fact, shuttered eyes and ears until the Ignorant-and-Proud allele had reached full penetrance. They courted nutcase after nutcase from every schizoid fringe that could influence their side of the aisle—from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Joe the Plumber and Louie Gohmert to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann—and brought them into the mainstream. Far from rooting out their more foolish and unsavory elements, they normalized them. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when when your candidate for POTUS can actually structure their entire platform around various flavors of hidebound ignorance and unconcealed bigotry, and garner real votes in the process.

This sought orgy of unenlightenment now comes to us in the form of Donald Trump, the insufferable egoist with “barstool intellect and vision that extends no further than the mirror”, as New York Daily News has described him. Embodying all the backward and outdated constructs our species has ever produced, he promises to “make America great again”, apparently by regressing our social ethics to a time when being white and male entitled you to run roughshod over the rights and values of those who were not.

Trump’s rise is a dark revelation that the old ways are still very much with us. He literally is America’s ugly cancerous heart we pretend does not exist. Undercurrents of hate have always been with us, but until recently they’ve operated at lower frequencies. The culpable were quickly socially shamed into obscurity.  Not anymore, as Trump has managed to normalize the dehumanizing: racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia are all back in vogue.

Trump revealed himself to be an unabashed racist when he demanded that Judge Curiel recuse himself on account of his Mexican descent. His repeated calls to ban Muslims from entering the country and establish a Muslim-specific registry revealed him to be an unpatriotic xenophobe who hands recruitment materials to terrorists and the radicalized. He revealed himself to be an insensitive bully when he mocked, on camera, a disabled journalist. Trump revealed himself to be a sexist pig when he was caught, on tape, bragging about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he’s famous, and on multiple occasions suggesting that women who aren’t attractive to him can’t be raped or harassed.

If one had thought such a paper trail of improprieties would seal the coffin on his candidacy, one would be very sorely mistaken. Just when it seems that no amount of gained leverage could possibly dig him out of this trench of moral rot he’s dug for himself, his polling numbers remain high. That this is a depressing commentary on the moral state of America goes without saying. But it also shows where the GOP’s key demographic lies: the older, narrowly educated white male. Trumpism has stoked the passions of the one demographic that is steadily declining. Everyone knows this demographic is pitching down, and yet the GOP, with Trump as their figurehead, have fashioned themselves into a party that panders to this one shrinking group.

Waning or no, it is still difficult to imagine that anyone, in 2016, would find Trump an appealing candidate. The idea that we should replace Obama, one of the greatest leaders this nation has ever seen, with someone who has made such a travesty of our political process and who so fully embodies unbridled ignorance? It beggars the mind. Yet against all intuition, he has secured the support of a major political party.

Maybe this is what we get when so few citizens are engaged in the civic process. Or perhaps this really is the someone a sizable chunk of our electorate has been waiting for: a kitschy reality-TV personality who sees running for president as simply the next step in a fun game of celebrity-dom; someone whose callousness is outsized only by his narcissism; someone who talks more about the size of his hands than climate change; someone whose operative emotion is anger and who resorts to junior high insults when he detects a challenge to his fragile ego; someone whose favored solution to geopolitical conflict is grabbling for the nuclear codes; someone who treats Muslims like outsiders and grammar like a choose-your-own-adventure story. In short, a male Palin.

What will happen next isn’t certain, but Trump may ultimately represent the last gasp of the narrowly educated, bigoted white male, the final bid for power by a bloc uncomfortable with diversity and outside ideas. As John Scalzi wrote recently: “And this is why the GOP deserves the chaos that’s happening to it now, with its appalling and parasitic standard bearer, who will never be president, driving his GOP host body toward the cliff. If it accepts the parasite, it will be driven off the cliff. If it resists, the parasite Trump will rip himself from it, leaving bloody marks as it does so, and then shove the dazed and wounded GOP from the precipice. That there is a fall in the GOP’s future is inevitable; all that is left is which plunge to take.” Time will certainly tell which path the party takes.

Trump is to blame for his own misdeeds, but the GOP shoulders the blame for letting things go this far. His supporters and the backward subculture they represent have heaped untold shame on this nation, and they deserve to be sidelined to the political corner until they think about what they’ve done. A nation cannot hope to move forward when half of its political capital refuses to accept facts, refuses to compromise, and serves up joke candidates who traffic in prejudice and toxic rhetoric. As Rachel concludes:

“And if the Republican Party and the conservative movement and the conservative media is stuck in a vacuum-sealed door-locked spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived as a nation of the constructive debate about competing feasible ideas about real problems.”

Will tomorrow be a redux of the kind of head-in-the-sand cluelessness Maddow so brilliantly articulates? We’ll know soon enough.


External link:  

Rachel Maddow explains the 2012 election and its result (transcript here)

Further reading:

Trump, the GOP, and the Fall (John Scalzi)
She won, yet I’m bummed (David Brin)
Donald Trump Hired Me As An Attorney. Please Don’t Support Him For President.
Historians on Donald Trump (David McCullough)
176 Shocking Things Donald Trump Has Done This Election (Keith Olberman)